Rugby Championship 2019

Superstition be damned – SA and NZ are in it to win it

Superstition be damned – SA and NZ are in it to win it
Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth goes on the rampage against Argentina in their 73-13 victory over the South Americans at the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day at FNB Stadium on Saturday, 17 August 2013. Picture: Jacques Cato/SAPA Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth goes on the rampage against Argentina in their 73-13 victory over the South Americans at the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day at FNB Stadium on Saturday, 17 August 2013. The day's events, in recognition of the former president's contribution to sport in South Africa, comprise three major matches at the stadium. First the 'Legends' exhibition, followed by Bafana Bafana's friendly international against 2013 Afcon runners-up Burkina Faso. The Springboks then hosted Argentina, in their 2013 Rugby Championship opener, at the same venue. Picture: Jacques Cato/SAPA

It’s the final showdown in Salta. The Springboks are chasing a title in front of the whistle-while-you’re-winning crowd while Australia and New Zealand slog it out in their age-old rivalry.

It’s been a decade since the Springboks won the Rugby Championship. Well, technically, they have never won the Rugby Championship. That’s the extent of New Zealand’s dominance in this competition.

Ever since the competition changed its name from the Tri-Nations and expanded to include Argentina, the All Blacks have won all but one tournament. Australia clinched the honours in 2015 – the same year the Springboks failed to record a single win.

Much has changed since then, though, and the Boks will know exactly what they need to do to win the trophy by the time things kick-off against Argentina on Saturday night.

Australia and New Zealand will slog it out in Saturday’s mid-morning kick-off before Argentina and Los Pumas bring the curtain down at 21:40 (South African time) in Salta.

As almost is the case, though, there is a caveat. Those who buy into superstition will tell you that the team that wins this trophy never wins the Rugby World Cup. But what’s the point of history if somebody doesn’t dare to change it?

Just ask Argentina.

It was in Salta, the same venue for their match against South Africa, back in 2016 that they did their own bit of rewriting.

They had never beaten the Boks in Argentina. They had done so for the first time ever the year before, but this win was tense. Just two points separated the two sides on that occasion. Two years later in Mendoza, the margin was much wider with the Boks losing 19-32.

Playing in Argentina is often described as “hostile” something which the Springboks are all too familiar with. Speaking to the media ahead of the Test, assistant coach Matt Proudfoot said:

We understand the challenge of the game having come here last year and losing in Mendoza. We played them before that in Salta and won, and the year before that we lost to them in Salta. So we are well aware of the challenge that the Pumas pose when you play them at home.”

We would like to win the game, but our focus is to just continue with the momentum we built (against the Wallabies and All Blacks) and preparing for the World Cup,” he added.

But hostile as a whistle-while-you-work crowd might be, nobody has the potential to be more hostile than the Boks’ own fans – even from over 7000kms away.

The last few months have seen a renewed sense of optimism around the Boks. At the extreme end of the spectrum, some believe that they might go on to win the World Cup. More moderate assessments point to more creative play and Rassie Erasmus building strength in depth.

But as fast as the conviviality has swollen, it can just as easily be deflated. A loss against Argentina won’t be the worst thing in the world in context, but it would be a kick in the teeth for those who have invested renewed hope in a team that just a few months ago was said to be at their lowest ebb.

While the opinion of social media cowboys are unlikely to have too much sway in the culture the team has worked so hard on building, knowing there is support and belief can go a long way in galvanising a side when the pressure is on.

Superstition and truncated tournament be damned – both South Africa and New Zealand will want to win this thing.

And every player in any of the four teams who might be lingering on the fringes will want to prove a point.

Rugby Championship 2019: Final round of fixtures

Australia vs New Zealand

Match notes and stats via World Rugby.

This is the first of two Bledisloe Cup matches in 2019. New Zealand has held the trophy since 2003.

A minute’s silence will take place before the match as a mark of respect for former All Blacks coach and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Sir Brian Lochore who died last weekend.

New Zealand and Australia will be playing their 165th test against each other. New Zealand has won 114 of those matches, Australia 43 with seven draws.

New Zealand has won 10 of the last 11 matches between the sides – the exception being Australia’s 23-18 win in Brisbane in October 2017.

The last match between the two sides was a 37-20 win for the All Blacks at Yokohama Stadium in Japan in October last year

In their last outing against South Africa, the All Blacks became the first team in test rugby history to score more than 16,000 points.

Prediction: New Zealand to win by 15.

Argentina vs South Africa

Match notes and stats via World Rugby.

The two teams are due to meet each other again next week again in Pretoria in an RWC 2019 warm-up fixture.

This is the 29th meeting between the teams. South Africa leads the head-to-head 24-3 with one draw.

South Africa and Argentina have played three times before in Salta. The first test, in 2014, was won 33-31 by the Springboks, while the Pumas won the second encounter at the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena in 2016, also by two points (26-24).

Overall, the Springboks have played 14 tests in Argentina against the Pumas, with 11 victories, two defeats and one draw.

Argentina will be on the hunt for back-to-back wins against South Africa for the first time after picking up a 32-19 win in their last encounter.

Argentina’s only victory in their last 10 tests on home soil came against South Africa in August 2018.

Tendai Mtawarira will join Rugby World Cup winner Bryan Habana on 53 appearances in the Rugby Championship to equal the Springbok caps record in the southern hemisphere competition.

Prediction: South Africa to win by seven. DM

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